The lower back, or the lumbar region, is an area that experts estimate over 80% of Americans feel pain in during their lifetimes(source). It makes sense: we sit all day, constricting our hip flexors and putting stress on the lower spine. That in combination with bad posture can be a recipe for a disaster!
Yoga is a great alternative to offer a holistic relief for the pain and can help with preventative care for the future. Here, I have put together seven yoga poses for an easy, at home, everyday flow to ease lower back pain and assist in relieving discomfort.
1. Easy Pose W/ Arm Variation
Come to a comfortable seat at the front of your mat with legs crossed. Place the hands slightly behind the hip bones shoulder width apart. Fingertips are facing the back of your mat, externally rotating the shoulders. If this is uncomfortable face fingers forward.
Pressing down through the hands, lift through the chest and widen the collarbone. This helps reverse any slouching or muscle imbalances caused by looking at a cellphone or computer all day.
As you use the hands as a lever to lengthen and lift the spine, tuck the low belly in. This helps to create a small arch in the upper thoracic spine (upper-mid back) while protecting the low back. By drawing in the belly button, we avoid dumping into the lumbar spine (low back).
Activate the core muscles and find stability using the core. Back is in a straight line, not rounding or arching.
Lengthen and lift on the inhale. Tuck on the exhale. This first pose is an excellent time to find the breath and find your Zen.
Stay here for 2-5 min.
2. Thread the Needle
Thread the Needle is a great pose to incorporate every day. Because so many of us sit all day, are hips are constantly in a flexed position. This can create tight hips and hamstrings, and when any muscle is tight, the body learns to use other nearby muscle groups to compensate for that tightness. This creates muscle imbalances, and in terms of tight hips, it can lead to back pain. By opening up the hips and hamstrings, we are creating a fuller range of motion. With a fuller range of motion, less responsibility falls on the spine to allow movement, decreasing back pain. This pose stretches the hips, spine, and outer thighs gently and with control.
Start in by lying on your back, and lift the feet off the ground, so they are hips width distance apart. The lower leg (calves and shins) are parallel with your mat, creating a perfect 90-degree angle with the upper leg (quads and hamstrings). The outside of the right ankle comes to the left thigh right above the knee. Right foot flexed throughout pose. Clasp the hands either behind your left leg or around the shin, depending on flexibility. Flex the left foot.
Tuck the belly in, creating no space in between the spine and your mat. If you aren’t feeling a stretch here, pull the left thigh in closer to the body (keep that foot flexed), while you push the right knee out. These alternate movements deepen the stretch while maintaining the correct form. If you’re bringing the left knee closer, the right shin is still in a straight line from knee to foot.
Hold for 2-5 min and change sides.
3. Gentle Spinal Twist
This gentle spinal twist with bent knees is a great for relieving tension in the entire back, as well as the neck. It allows you to gently massage and strengthen the spine without placing too much stress on it.
Lay on your back and hug the knees into the chest. Arms release to a T-shape on the floor creating a 90-degree angle between the arms and the side body. Slowly, using the core strength, lower both knees to the right. By activating the core during this movement, the spine is protected, and the movement is stable and controlled.
The belly is tucked protecting the spine so there is little or no space in between the spine and the floor. The gaze can be neutral at the ceiling or the head can turn to face to opposite hand.
Both shoulders are on the floor. Option to put a block in between the legs if there is a gap. Using the core, come back to a neutral position.
Stay here for between 2-5 minutes or longer. Repeat on opposite side.
4. Cat and Cow Pose
This simple movement stretches the hips and the entire spine. It also teaches us to move with the breath. Come to hands and knees in a table pose. Tops of the feet are pressing into the mat. Knees are stacked under the hips and hands are stacked under the shoulders.
On the inhale (cow pose),lift through the chest and widen the collar bone creating a small back bend in the upper middle spine, as you do this draw the naval in towards the spine. This helps to avoid overarching the lower spine. The triceps are rotating towards the body, as the shoulder blades move down the back.
On the exhale (cat pose), using your core,round the entire spine, draw the navel in and up, and release your neck. Allow the crown of the head to move towards the floor. Imagine a scared cat associated with Halloween. That is essentially what you want to look like.
Personally, I like to keep my core tight and active throughout these movements. I find it trains the core to be active instead of overworking my spine and back muscles. It also keeps me from overarching. If you have a tendency to overarch your low back, I recommend you try it this way!
Move through these poses with the rhythm of your own breath, and feel free to take any other movements (hip circles, etc.) that feel good for you.
Complete 10-12 slow rounds.
5. Downward Facing Dog
Downward Facing Dog helps to lengthen and open up the spine. It also helps stretch the hamstrings, which when tight, often lead to lower back pain.
Coming from your hands and knees, tuck the toes, press through the hands, and push back to down dog. I love to use my core to pull me up and back to Down Dog super slowly—give it a try! In Down Dog, start with the knees bent and lift the tailbone towards the ceiling creating a long, straight spine. Pelvis draws up and back. Rotate the triceps in towards the face, as you pull the shoulder blades down the back creating a long neck. Hands press firmly into the mat. Sloooooowly, start to walk your dog (stretch one leg straight at a time—heel reaches towards the ground) If this feels good, and the back isn’t rounding, straighten both legs and reach the heels towards the mat.
You want to avoid rounding the back here. A good way to tell if this is happening is you will feel a shift in the pelvic girdle’s position. If you find your back rounding, when you try to straighten the legs, bend those knees. Otherwise, the purpose of this pose is defeated creating more stress on the spine. The reason why you’re rounding is because the spine is compensating for the tightness of the hamstrings. Leave your ego at the door and bend your freakin’ knees (speaking from experience)!
Stay here for 2-5 min
6. Sphinx Pose
The Sphinx is a great pose for warming that spine up for back bending, especially if you lack flexibility in the spine and back. It builds muscle and gently arches the spine. Sitting often can cause compression in the lower back. Sphinx pose gently promotes the natural curvature of the spine without putting it as risk.
Start by lying on the belly. Bring the feet hips width apart with the tops of the feet pressing into the mat. Elbows are under the shoulders. If this creates pain in the low back slide the elbows forward.
Discomfort in normal in yoga, pain is not. For all my overachievers, yes, there is a difference.
Hands and forearms press firmly into the mat (creating a sort of resistance), as you lift through the chest and widen through the collarbone. Shoulder blades move down the back. Legs are pressing firm into the mat and feet pointed. Gaze is forward.
Stay here for 1-3 min, increasing as you find more flexibility.
7. Child’s Pose
Child’s Pose is one of my absolute favorite poses. It’s calming, centering, and helps to lengthen and stretch the lower back. It stretches the inner thighs, hips, and assists in stabilizing the spine. It is especially important to practice after a back-extension movement, or in laments terms a backbend (Sphinx Pose in this practice).
Knees can come together or apart. The big toes are touching. The tops of the feet and shins are pressing in to mat. Lengthen through the sternum, and slowly bend over the knees until you find your edge. Arms can be extended out in front or alongside body. Rest the forehead on a block or on the mat. The hips reach towards the heels, as you lengthen through the hands (if arms out in front) or the crown of the head (if arms alongside body.).
With every inhale allow yourself to lengthen, and with each exhale, sink a bit deeper into the forward bend.
Hold for 3-5 min
Your lower back is a huge part of your core and supports the whole torso and the body. It is so important to take care of it. Even if you don’t have back pain now, preventative care is so important. Sit less and move more. Find a yoga teacher who focuses on alignment, because without that, all of those fancy poses are useless and unattainable.
I offer privates at all different price points if you are interested in deepening your practice (Find more info here).Although privates are more expensive than a group class, you are also getting instruction for your specific body and tendencies, which makes all those group classes way more useful.
Sitting less, moving more, and stretching and strengthening the back goes a long way. However, if you are having persistent pain in your lower back, it's always good to check it with the doctor to make sure nothing more serious is going on.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor (I know, what a shock!). But seriously, if you’re having consistent back pain, go see your local chiropractor and doctor to get a medical opinion.